From the journal Material For Thought, issue number 2
© 1990 Far West Editions
By Jean Kinkead Martine
First published in Mc Calls Magazine Reprinted by permission of author
The turning point came for me on a late June afternoon with the impact of a thunderbolt. Why it came at that particular moment, I honestly don’t know. There was nothing in the moments just before to presage it. But afterward nothing was ever quite the same again.
I was standing in the kitchen preparing dinner for some business friends of my husband’s, my thoughts going around the same old track they’d been going around for years: “I’m nothing but a slave. An exhausted, unappreciated slave. Why can’t I ever do anything I want to do? Live my kind of life, instead of a rat race like this? There must be something more to life. There’s got to be. Damn, DAMN.”
My little boy came in then. “There’s something I want to ask you, Mom,” he began. That was absolutely all he said, but it was the last straw. One final demand on my emptiness.
I turned on him. “Get out,” I said. “Can’t you see I’m up to my neck in work? You’ll have to get out!” He just stood looking up at me, and maybe it was that that did it. Just a look, quiet and steady. My thoughts stopped going around, somehow stilled by the authority of that look. It was exactly as if someone had shut off the power on a merry-go-round. I was just standing there, feeling quite naked without my turning thoughts, without my martyr’s cloak. A thirty-year-old woman in a blue housedress, holding a wooden spoon, meeting her son for the first time.
“I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, as usual, John,” I said, hearing my own voice, the voice of a stranger, “but when I get this meal organized, I’ll hurry upstairs. We’ll have a chance to talk before the people come.”
The kitchen door swung to behind him, but there was time to get an impression of the strong, self-contained look of him, and the lightness of his step because of what had passed between us. I was alone again, and yet not alone. There was this sense of myself, myself connected with or related to the source of my life. It was just as if the role that I had been playing all through the years were suddenly and clearly that, a role. I could almost see my mask and costume slung over the back of the yellow stool; this role seemed as separate as that from `I’.
Then something quite extraordinary happened. It’s hard to put it into words, because there were no words connected with it. In the sudden clearing, I knew the source of this role. It wasn’t that I figured it out. It wasn’t an intellectual kind of “knowing” at all. I simply knew that the role had come from Annchen, the nurse who had cared for my brothers and me when we were children. From poor Annchen, a truly wretched soul, whose back was always breaking under self-imposed Herculean labors and who unceasingly criticized our parents for their abuse of her. Our childish sympathies had gone out to this woman. She was the heroine of all our early years. She fed us, nursed us through our illnesses, spoiled us, and our hearts had bled for this noble martyr.
All unwittingly, I had taken on her attitude, had in some thoroughly mysterious fashion permitted her bleak point of view to color the whole of my young adult life!
I finished preparing the dinner, recognizing that there was much that might have been prepared the day before, much that might have been omitted, had the “martyr” not been planning the menu. And when things were under control, I went upstairs,
still feeling what I can only describe as close to myself, as if things were in the right order in nie.
My husband was getting dressed in our room, and he turned around halfway as I went in. “How’s it going?” he asked me, not wanting to look at me, not really wanting to hear my voice, with its undertones of self-pity.
I said, “I think it’s going to be good. I really do.” Then I had to look away from the swift, glad look he gave me. Such heartfelt thanks for so little! I looked back at last, and I couldn’t stop looking at him. His face was so—new. It didn’t seem like his face at all.
When I’d got dressed, there was time to go into John’s room. (It seemed as though there were time for everything that day.) He said, “I’ve forgotten what I wanted to ask you, but sit down a minute, can you?” I sat, feeling the Nowness of it. Just knowing I was there in the cluttered little room that smelled of old apple peelings and faintly of chlorine from his wet bathing suit. Just knowing I was there, with the late sunshine shining in John’s Irish-setter eyes, the radio turned way down in deference to my visit, never wanting to lose the Nowness.
I lost it, of course, but never completely. It resounded in me, and I began to know that it, the Now Place, was still there; that somehow I was absent.
That is really all there is to the story of the moment that was the turning point for me. This chance discovery that there is a quiet core within us all, this place from which one can live more simply and with great joy. My brief visit there came as a gift, and it changed the course of my life because it made me want only one thing: to find a way to try to live more and more in this place, and from this place where I Am. I have found that the “something more” I had always wanted was not a something more quantitatively speaking, but something more qualitatively. That what I had been hungering for was not, after all, to have a different life, but to be more “present” in my own life. Not to have more knowledge, more ability, more patience, more peace, more fun, but more `being’.
I wish I could report that the martyr disappeared that evening, never to be heard from again, and that thenceforth life with my husband and son became an idyll. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What is different is that I have a direction now. I am constantly losing my way, landing in the clouds, instead of centering myself where I am at any given moment, feeling the bare truth of the car wheel in my hands, the typewriter keys under my fingers. Oh, I am constantly losing my way; the miracle is that I keep finding it again.
There are books to help with my quest, and there are fellow travelers. Sometimes there is the bounty of a return visit to the turning point, to the Now Place. And what a homecoming that is!